Garden Valley Golf Resort: Is it Really the Augusta National of Texas?

By Art Stricklin, Contributor

LINDALE, Texas - For the most part, golfers are a simple and trusting lot. All they want is an honest course to attempt to conquer this ever-maddening game.

They still believe that the latest technique, the latest method, the latest wonder club will take strokes off their handicap and finally unlock the true secret of golf. They believe the latest ball; latest driver, latest wedge or putter is all they will need for a lifetime of golf bliss.

But you'll have to forgive even the most trusting humble hacker for becoming a bit cynical when they see a course, the Garden Valley Golf Resort in the tiny East Texas town of Lindale, proclaiming itself the Augusta National of Texas.

After all, even mere mortals who haven't set foot on the fabled green sod during the annual April pilgrimage, better known as the Masters Tournaments, knows every blade of Augusta's back nine, thanks to a generation of viewing the proceedings through CBS' lecherous and leering lenses.

The Augusta National of Texas? Well, golf fans, at least those who have made the trek 70 miles east of Dallas, can attest that this is one complex that truly lives up to truth in advertising.

Garden Valley may not be an exact replica of the course in Southeast Georgia. After all, the last time I was there (Garden Valley), I was unable to find any grits or peach cobbler in the 19th hole. But the 36-hole facility with lodging facilities on-site, is as pretty and inviting as you'll find anywhere in the Lone Star State. It's really the Augusta National of Texas.

"There are still a lot of people within 20 miles of Garden Valley who couldn't tell you how to get here, but it's about the only course in East Texas with bentgrass greens and the back nine is really special," Director of Golf Scott Warren said. "It's like getting out of the city and getting back to the country with all the flowers and tall pines. It's a wonderful feeling."

The resort, which opened in the early 1990s, has gone through a series of owners, but was recently purchased by Dallas-based, Legacy Capital Group and is being run by golf industry veteran, Prime Golf Group out of Dallas, which is beginning to restore the luster of the facility.

"We like to think this is a hidden gem in a lot of people's backyards," Prime Golf's Jim Mills said. "We're close enough to Dallas-Fort Worth that people can get out here and get back in less than a day."

There are two courses: Hummingbird, which at 6,446 yards, par 71 is a warm-up to the main event and is best suited for newcomers to the game. It features water on half of the holes, but plenty of short par 4s and 5s with few trees.

The Dogwood course, which was designed by architect John Stanford in the early 1990s, more than measures up to its annual billing as one of the top 10 public courses in Texas.

Stanford planned the courses around two large lakes, Butler and Jackson, and several groves of thick East Texas pines. The beauty of his layout at the Dogwood tract is not how much he did, but how well he fit the par 72 course, which measures 6,754 yards from the back tees, into the existing landscape.

The front nine starts out innocent enough with little to get in the golfer's way other than some water and a bit of natural scenery. All the holes feature smooth bentgrass greens, often a rarity for East Texas due to the extreme summer heat. The par 3 second hole is a pretty shot over water, which can make the drive all or nothing for a birdie, par or watery disaster.

Playing the slightly doglegged par 5 ninth hole next to the driving range and within sight of the nearby interstate highway, there is little to suggest what a special treat golfers are in for on the back nine of Dogwood.

Staring down the long, tree-lined par 5 10th hole, it's hard to imagine you're about to embark on one of the most complete nine-hole layouts in the area, if not the state. It's one picturesque, water-filled hole blending into another with no weak links anywhere on the back nine.

Both the par 5 10th, 512 yards, and the 407-yard par 4 11th take the golfer into the tree-laden forest of East Texas Oak and Pine along with plenty of native flowers and scenery. A round at Dogwood, especially in the springtime with the many flowers blooming, is a treat every Texas golfer should try to put on their annual resolutions list.

Golfers face water twice on the par 3 12th hole, once off the tee box and another time as the lake curls up to the left side of the green, close enough to catch any wayward shots.

The par 4 13th is another stern challenge, measuring 388 yards from the back tees, as the hole doglegs left toward the water off the tee box. You can shorten the distance by playing close to the water, but any shot hooked left will almost certainly meet a watery disaster.

The par 4 14th is shorter at just 355 yards, but golfers must face trees, which line the left side of the fairway, and water, part of Butler Lake, which cuts in front of the green. The 15th is a par 3, 183 yards from the back tees, but it plays directly downhill with the lake backing the green to catch any balls that overshoot the target. The late afternoon sun can also pose a daunting challenge on this hole.

Both holes 16 and 17 are tight par 4s, which dogleg their way through the trees as the course winds its way back toward the clubhouse. The par 5 18th is a stirring climax to the Garden Valley excellence with Jackson Lake all along the right side, trees to the left with a smallish, amphitheater green awaiting your final showdown. It will be a nine holes you'll be sorry to see end.

Other than the great golf, the best part is the highly reasonable prices for this golfing gem. The green fees, including cart, are $40 for Dogwood on the weekdays, $64 on the weekends. The rates for Hummingbird are $25 and $30 respectively, giving the adventuresome and energetic golfer the chance to pull off an excellent 36-hole combo for less than $100 a day.

"You can get out of the city and play a round out here and get back before anybody hardly knows you're gone," Warren said.

The clubhouse is well stocked for any golf needs, but not overly large or ostentatious. There is lunch served, but limited dinner choices on property. There are several restaurants along the interstate highway with Tyler, the largest town in the area, less than 20 miles away.

The lodging choices at Garden Valley are either condos or two-story A-frames, which can comfortably lodge an entire group for a weekend. Like the clubhouse, the sleeping facilities are certainly adequate, but nothing fancy. The prices are also relatively inexpensive coming in at less than $100. The underlying theme is that nobody comes to Garden Valley solely to eat or sleep.

"During the weekends in the spring and summer we're full almost all of the time," said Warren. "We have both weekend and weekday stay-and-play packages."

But the golf is the thing and when it comes as good as advertised, even with such lofty claims, it's an East Texas Piney Woods trek all local golfers should make at least once in their 2001 schedule.

For reservations and more information, call 800-443-8577. Garden Valley is located on Interstate 20, 70 miles east of Dallas, 90 miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Garden Valley Golf Resort
22049 F.M. Road 1995
Lindale, Texas 75771
Telephone: 800-443-8577

Director of Golf: Scott Warren

Awards and Honors: Named by the Dallas Morning News, top 10 resort courses in Texas.

Directions: From Dallas, go 70 miles east on I-20, take first Lindale exit, course on the right.

Facilities: Two 18-hole golf courses, practice area and driving range, clubhouse, condos and A-Frame lodging for overnight stays. Weekend and weekday stay-and-play packages offered.

Art Stricklin, Contributor

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